Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for the ‘Post Combat Mental Health’ Category

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Post Combat Mental Health,Veterans,Vietnam War

August 22, 2018

But Still . . .

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

First it was the dreams

No, wait, that’s not what was first; what barged in first was the envelopment, the saturation, the occupation of my bones and blood, my mind and my soul by the searing recollections of what happened at Khe Sanh.

The realization of what I’d seen men do to each other, do for each other, in some of the bloodiest combat in the Vietnam War, got on me, in me, over me . . . so all-encompassing that it’s really impossible to articulate the real impact of that kind of war experience. The whys, the implications of humanity’s behavior in combat haunt me to this moment.

And then it was sleep, as much time as I could steal. I was accused of having depression. I told everyone I was just tired.

Then, later, a few years, it was the dreams that began to snake into my brain like a slinking King Cobra intent on striking my mind and debilitating me for the balance of my life.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E O’Hara.

Forty-five years ago, I punched my first wife in the face when she tried to wake me and find out what was wrong, while I dreamed. Sometimes I remembered the dreams when I woke, but that time I didn’t. Other times I would come to in a cold sweat. Sometimes—and this still happens—I would awake to my heart hammering in my chest.

More than once I recall lying beneath the damp sheets in the dark, my breath sharp, eyes straining, listening for someone to come sneaking down the red clay trenchline and then realizing I wasn’t at Khe Sanh, but just coming out of a nightmare. I can’t tell you what it felt like as relief swept into my consciousness and literally over my body. I would lie there and think, “That’s not real. It’s just a memory.”

And there was rage, and estrangement and hyper vigilance . . . locking the doors and then checking again and again to see if they were locked.

If other drivers drove vehicles in a way that scared me or made me anxious, I burst into long diatribes about their family lineage. I still do.

I stopped toting my pistol twenty-five years ago because I was afraid that in a fit of rage I would shoot somebody for something that seemed monumental at the moment but only trivial after my rage—and the fear that fueled the rage—subsided. Then I’d witness the cell doors clang as I began my murder sentence.

If I heard something outside, either day or night, I’d rise—I still rise—from my desk, a chair, my bed, and move quietly to a window so I could peek out.

One Saturday night years ago a foolish young man—who at the time I didn’t recognize—who wanted desperately to be my friend kept calling me at midnight, just messing around, breathing into the phone and not talking. After six or seven of those calls, I screamed at him about what I would do if he didn’t stop.

Then he came to my apartment and scratched at the windows, the doors. My pistol was beneath the seat in my truck, so I rushed to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife I could find. Trying to be stealthy, I sneaked up to the front door and listened. Outside, traffic hurried down 36th Street and somewhere a siren sounded. Then again, the sound of someone scratching the front door. My heart pounded and I felt like a young Marine engaged in hand-to-hand combat, enraged and deadly. I managed to unlock the door and throw it open simultaneously and then leap out with the knife held in position to drive it into the intruder’s vitals.

A big man stood there, trying to look in my front window. I took a long step and grabbed the collar of his shirt as he turned to look at me. Lucky for him and me, light from the next-door neighbor’s outside lamp shined on his face and I recognized him in time to stop the thrust of that knife into his heart.

Sometimes I was—I am—roused by the smell of rotting flesh—maybe a dead cow or someone’s deceased pet—which pulled me back to Khe Sanh where the wind would blow just right and you smelled the dead people out there in the no man’s land between the enemy and us. Then the memories would flood in.

Sometimes when I walked down the street or stood in the back yard, the loud bang of a car backfire or some other loud sound assaulted my being and I ducked or flinched as I looked around for the death associated with that noise and wished—not thinking, just reacting—for some place to hide. Then I’d hope that no one observed me in that moment of weakness. That hasn’t stopped, either.

Or the fireworks shows that my family expected me to attend. But the loud noises scared me and I couldn’t explain to them my fear. And I hated to admit it was fear.

Sometimes it was the sense that I was being watched by someone as I pushed a grocery cart down the aisle of the local store. Or maybe while I walked across the street. I still find myself stopping to look around and see who’s out there watching me.

While driving, I’d swerve to avoid a brown paper bag or a black plastic one because, maybe, just maybe, there could be a booby trap concealed inside. I considered myself pretty damned foolish when that happened, and yet . . .

And sometimes I felt the need to get away from crowds so I could stand back and watch to see who might be interested in doing me and mine harm. I shy away from crowds.

Ken Rodgers. co-producer of BRAVO! Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Sometimes it was the need to get away from crowds because all those people crammed together could die—easy targets jammed up like that. One round. One suicide bomber wearing a vest full of C-4 and rusty nuts and bolts and steel ball bearings. You can see that happening, right?

And I know help is out there, and I’ve been to see the shrink—or shrinks—and I’ve done other things to mitigate the rage, the paranoia, the estrangement. But still . . .

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town, please contact us immediately.

***

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.